The Giver’s Gift is… Boredom.
Director: PHILLIP NOYCE/2014
At some point we have to be honest with ourselves. There are simply too many teen dystopian/fantasy films out there. Between The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, Vampire Academy, Ender’s Game, The Host, etc., there has to be a breaking point. That breaking point has now been reached with the latest offering called The Giver.
The Giver comes into the theater with all of the required credentials to generate buzz. It is a popular book, it targets the youth demographic, and for credibility it boasts two incredible acting talents in Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, along with Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes (there is even a Taylor Swift appearance). The problem is that it is just not at all interesting.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), along with his friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are about to have their monumental birthday. In this utopia where they live, everyone is given their life-long job on this birthday where they will execute their duty faithfully to ensure that the peace and harmony they enjoy will continue. In this society, your family is put together. Love is not a part of relationships. Family is simply a unit, established by the Elders to provide nurture to the children until they are old enough to accept their job. Babies are produced through science, and the elderly are given a ceremonial leave where they get to “retire” in bliss. The focus in this world is sameness. This allows for the things that ruined our previous society to never have a foothold. Jealousy, individualism, greed, and the like are not a part of this new utopian world.
When the Chief Elder (Streep) appears at a ceremony to give out the jobs, she gives the noble assignment of Receiver of Memories to Jonas. Jonas is to train with The Giver (Bridges) who gives all of the knowledge of the past, including the pain and hurt of things that existed previously to the receiver. The receiver is to use this to advise the council but is he is not supposed to disclose the knowledge of the past to anyone. But what if the knowledge of the past begins to cause the giver to see this utopian society as a dystopian hell?
The idea of this type of society was a huge success as a book, selling over 10 million copies worldwide. But here, as a film, the notions it presents are simply romantic ones that will fall flat with most audiences, especially the young audience it is focused on. The film plods on and on and really has only minor interesting character arcs…occasionally. Katie Holmes has never been more wooden, not since Dawson’s Creek that is. Sadly, this is also the first time in forever that one can say that Meryl Streep actually phoned in a performance. She seemed uninspired throughout the film, as if she was simply doing this part as a favor to someone.
The one bright spot, and the only character who truly holds this thing together is Jeff Bridges. As a producer on this project, it was Bridges who has been trying for years to get it made. His passion is evident in his performance, but while it is a strong enough performance to keep you watching, it is not enough to compel you to care about the greater story.
The Giver even ends on a note that could ensure that no sequel happens, and hopefully like the ill-fated The Golden Compass, we never again have to revisit this franchise on film. I thought thatEnder’s Game was a mess last year, and it cut too much from the book that was vital to the overall story. After watching The Giver, and having never read the book from which it is based, I can only assume that this must be the case here. This film, after all of the other dystopian/fantasy films we have seen lately, must be missing so many other narratives that existed in the book, because it is the only explanation for how a film like this gets made with no compelling focal point other than “Sameness bad, diversity good”.
There is some interesting commentary on the horrors of our culture that we can take and evaluate as we watch The Giver share them with Jonas, The Receiver of Memories. But even they are presented with the moral weight of an after-school special rather than a feature film. In the end, the message that The Giver tries to present comes off as being about 20 years too late.
At the beginning of the film, we see the world through the moral compass of this future intended-utopian society: black and white. Even as the color enters the screen, it is more telling that the story simply leaves us in monochrome, playing the same note and hue throughout. The Giver is supposed to impart upon us a great message that will awaken our senses to what is possible. Instead, it simply imparts upon us a deep boredom that we can only be awakened from when the credits finally roll.